East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Drabble and Double Drabble!


Orson Welles said that

the absence of constraints is the enemy of art

Orson Welles

and I cannot deny he was right. He knew, after all, a thing or two about art and constraints, and he was Orson frelling Welles!

I was reminded of Welles quote this morning, as I got a call for a horror anthology looking for Drabbles and Double Drabbles.
A Drabble is a thing Monthy Python invented for a lark: a novel in 100 words – not one less, no one more. A Double Drabble is, as you can imagine, a novel in 200 words.
And by novel I mean it has to have character development, dialogue, stuff happening, like a proper 500-pages blockbuster.

I wrote my story, called The Girl Who Knew, and mailed it at lunchtime.
It took me two hours to write 200 words.
Now my average when writing stories is roughly 500-words per hour, so in theory the Double Drabble should have taken me 24 minutes.

So, why did writing 200 words take me as long as it usually it takes to write 1000 or more?
Simple: constraints.

The Double Drabble is 200 words – not 197, not 201.
So you start and you get to 37 words in 5 minutes and say, it’s fine, I’m doing good. Then you are at 170, and all of a sudden you realize you can’t close it in 30 words, so you go back and start trying to tighten it up, using a more compact syntax that will give you an extra 20 words.
In this way you are able to get to the end – and realize you have 198 words.

And here it’s where it gets really interesting: because two words are no big deal, right? A “But” here, an “often” there, and you’re set.
Only you’re working with such tight, compact, well-balanced sentences, that you can’t simply add some fluff somewhere. It does not work, the rhythm breaks, the sentence suddenly sounds flat.
So you delete the whole sentence, and now you have 10 words to fill and you fill a new sentence in there, that’s actually a lot better than the one you deleted.
But now you are at 201 words.
You curse, and start re-reading for the tenth time to see if you can take a single word out and still have the whole house of cards standing.
And so on.
For two hours.

A hell of a writing exercise.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “Drabble and Double Drabble!

  1. Yes, writing short is hard! I think even longer-short (like a 1000 word flash fiction) is hard, too.


  2. Wow – that would be quite the writing exercise!


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